CV Rick wrote:
I admit that my knowledge of Marx and his criticisms is weak. I'm just now learning the barebones of his actual philosophy and argument rather than learning what other people believe he was proposing. I will start by reading some of his works.
While admirable, reading Marx may not be a great idea. Most of it is unreadable. Under no circumstances try to read "Das Kapital"! The readable portions of Marx are co-authored by Engels, so that a good starting point would be to start with those works. In fact, the best introduction to Marxism is not by Marx, it is Engels' work "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1892, from a larger work in 1878)".
Marx also has to be read in the context of his times. In the nineteenth century, socialism meant mainly utopian socialism of Saint Simon and Fourier or the New Harmony Owenite community in the United States. Marx and Engels added the theory of class struggle and differentiated their brand of socialism from the Utopians. The competing critique of capitalism was anarchism, so anti-capitalists had a varied menu to choose from.
The centrist socialist parties that have prevailed in most of Europe since WWII are the offspring of both Marx and Engels (without the Leninist and Maoist accretions) and the utopians. In the United States, a socialist party was significant and reached a high point in 1912, but after WWII liberals increasingly distanced themselves from Marxism of any flavor (except for the Genovese's) and the utopian socialist ideals morphed into the New Deal and the Fair Deal. One has to wonder about the wisdom of ignoring the class struggle in the United States (except for some occasional labor union rhetoric) and instead of negotiating the terms of coexistence with capitalism, buying into the idea that we (or at least those of us who are white Protestant third- or more generation Americans) are all capitalists now.
With due respect for the gentleman from Mississippi, I have to disagree on several points above.
1. The idea that Marx is unreadable is bizarre. He's one of the most clearly written 19th century social theorists that ever there was. From his early efforts in the German Ideology
to his magnum opus. Speaking of which, Das Kapital
is a brilliant sociological work, especially the first volume. It is, however, for specialists who already know the language and jargon and can walk through a LOT of data and follow through larger points about the social relations of production and the abstractions necessary to make a capitalist society work. Early Marx is an adaptation of Hegel's philosophy of history; and late Marx is highly quantitative. That said, the essay "Wage Labor and Capital" and "The Manifesto" and "The Brummaire of Louis Bonaparte" are all perfectly readable.
2. Engels' influence, in my opinion, was detrimental to Marxist thought on at least one key level, namely that Engels was not as complex a thinker as Marx and so perpetuated a couple of problematic ideas, to wit, a crass material determinism that Marx had rejected before he ever moved to England. While "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" is clearly in the Marxist tradition, it is not a good introduction to Marx himself for precisely that reason. The historical teleology of early communist theory (which Marx rejected as early as 1852) was in fact an good way to organize politically as a hopeful ideology for working class folks to hang on to as they fought for their lives within the wage labor system. But it isn't sociologically or historically accurate, which is why Marx dropped it in 1852 never to return to it. Likewise, the utopianism of the early Communist theories came to look clearly flawed by Marx by the mid-1850s and although he held out hope for an eventual communism (by which Marx meant something quite different from Lenin and Mao, i.e., the communal ownership of the means of production), he dropped the historical determinism argument. Engels did not. The *reason* Marx dropped this aspect of his theory was because of the failure of the 1848 uprisings (e.g., in Paris) and the evident power of the Bourgeois state not just to control by force, but to control consciousness itself.
3. Finally, less a disagreement with Old Fart than a further explanation: In Europe, the social democracy movements which created the modern welfare states (France, England, Germany, Scandinavia, etc.) were based in Marx's critique of capitalist relations of production, but rejecting the notion of communism. America had a very different relationship to socialist theory/communism because of the history of our 2nd industrial revolution (Marx was already dead by this time). The capitalist class in the U.S. had a massive pool of immigrant labor to fill their factories, and when they tried to organize, it became easy to blame unions on "foreign" or "unAmerican" influences (although about 1/2 the labor movement were native born Americans). Socialism got marked in America as "foreign" and "anti-freedom", because by the 1870s, the capitalist class had already succeeded in overthrowing Jeffersonian notions of freedom and replacing them with private property (i.e., private ownership of the means of production with the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands) and consumerism (which had been framed as a process of pesonal regeneration through purchasing mass-produced objects). Mutualism and reciprocity, which are the fundamental values of agrarian society, both in the U.S. and among the immigrants, had to be stamped out in favor of market (wage labor) individualism, and the main way to do that was to combine wage labor with the idea of "freedom." But as Jamie points out, this was a process that took WWII to stamp out, and it is my reading of the historical evidence that the WWII generation, tired as hell of the depression and war, and scared to death by the Cold War, longing for peace and stability became a nation that readily submitted to authority and valued the status of the white collar jobs (which came to dominate the labor market in the 1950s thanks to the GI bill) and atomized suburban housing over the kinds of communal organizations, mutualism, and reciprocity that had been their parents' guiding values in the 1930s. And with that, the hope for social democracy in the U.S. was all but dead (with the notable exception of the key surviving efforts of FDR, e.g., Social Security).
And Frank, if that's what you got from your degree in Political Science at BYU, you need to demand your money back and go get another degree. Seriously. You cannot have a degree in political science and think in any way that the U.S. is *increasingly* socialist, inasmuch as your party of choice has been gradually dismantling what little social democracy the U.S. had since the election of RR.